In churches which follow a liturgical year, yesterday was the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday. The concept of divine mercy is both interesting and essential to our Christian faith, but it is not always easy to understand. Since I wrote about compassion in my last blog post, it follows easily to write about mercy in this one.
Jesus, of course, was a Lord of both compassion and mercy. The two of them go hand in hand, but compassion is basically an emotion, a way we look at others and move from looking at them that way to treating them that way. Compassion literally means “feeling with” and moves the concept of true love of humankind from something we do towards them to something we do with them, taking into consideration their real needs and feelings. Because of its true meaning, compassion is an emotion we hope all Christians feel and employ.
Mercy is far more, particularly if we look at the meaning of mercy in the Bible. People can be merciful by being forgiving, kind and compassionate to others. Mercy is including in the Beatitudes as “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” We are expected to follow Jesus’ example in the way that we treat others, and God looks with favor on that mercy.
But mercy in the Bible is overall about God. It is a quality which we can imitate but cannot attain in its entirety. Mercy is bound up in God’s covenant and promises to us and in His gift of His Son, in total forgiveness, and in eternal life. Such mercy is far beyond mankind’s mercy.
God’s mercy is abundant and infinite. Abundance implies a lot, but infinite tells us that God’s mercy absolutely has no end. The other word which is my favorite for this concept is “everlasting,” as in one of my favorite hymns, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” This kind of love isn’t going to end with divorce, abandonment, death or change of mind the way that human love can end. This love comes from a God known as “alpha and omega,” the beginning and the end, the eternal presence throughout all of existence.
As we continue to celebrate Easter, let’s celebrate mercy, the great gift of the God of Love.
April 22, 2019
A man in pain, hanging there
Close to heaven but closer to hell,
Bearing His own humanity
And all our human wrongs as well.
In His eyes are sorrow and more –
Compassion for those who stand below –
And in His heart more of loneliness
Than even God should have to know.
He dies – quickly is hidden away;
Only a few even know the place.
His mother mourns, and those who had seen
The tears of God upon His face.
At Easter dawn the tomb is bare,
And in the garden now He walks.
“’Though I am gone, I’m with you, too,”
He speaks love’s greatest paradox.
A world in pain, spinning here,
Full of those living in daily fear,
Bearing burdens of death and hurt
And needing His great comfort near.
“‘Though I am gone, I’m with you still,
For I’ve seen death – I know its touch.
I’ve looked down in loneliness upon
The world I loved so very much.”
As Easter dawn comes once again,
No tomb can hold a Lord who dies,
And we, in Easter joy and hope,
Still see compassion in His eyes.
I have been sharing this poem during this Easter season, a poem I wrote while contemplating a painting called “Compassion” by artist Dena Roush, a close friend of my mother’s. I wanted to share it again in this blog because the subject matter has been on my mind as pertinent to this Easter season extending to Pentecost in June.
Of all the qualities that Jesus displayed during His life on earth, compassion was foremost. He saw people as children of God in need of forgiveness and mercy but also in need of the God of Love to cure their afflictions, calm their fears, and rest their minds and souls. During His time the common people were seeing the very worst of the abuses of power and ambition. The Romans were in charge, and their domination of the world actually went to the extreme of declaring the “one true god” to be their emperor.
Such a “god” had no compassion, as shown by the abuse of people by his soldiers, the extreme taxation which kept the poor poorer, and the brutality of such practices as crucifixion and “circuses” with people versus lions. No wonder the people of Judea flocked to listen to Jesus as He spoke of the importance of those who were meek, merciful, peacekeeping and “poor in spirit,” a term meaning humble and obedient. They needed His healing of spirit and mind as much as His physical healing.
In the spirit of “pass it on,” may these days after Easter be a time when we imitate Him and find the compassion within ourselves and share it with others. Imagine a whole world of compassion – Jesus could!
April 15, 2019
This is Holy Week for Christians. It is the most passionate week – going from praise to despair to betrayal to death to Resurrection, summoning every human emotion. I want to focus on one day, because I believe strongly in its significance.
Holy Thursday – or Maundy Thursday, which refers specifically to the ceremony of washing feet – contains in it strong parts of Jesus’ legacy to us. We need to remember that this was originally the day of Passover commemorating God’s killing of the firstborn of the Egyptians which secured the Israelite’s release from bondage. The significance of that should be obvious.
At this time, Jesus is a few days away from being hailed as a king and welcomed by the people into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Now in the Upper Room He has to complete some vital things with His Disciples before He faces His death. First, He washes the Disciples’ feet against protests by Peter, a gesture of kindness toward guests. But the washing of feet is far more than that; it is His way of establishing Himself as servant of all and summoning us to service to each other.
Next, Jesus gives us the symbolic meal of bread and wine, a sacrament commemorating forever His body and blood given for us in fulfillment of God’s covenant. During that meal, He also identifies His betrayer, moving this from a simple meal to a last gesture before the rest of this evening, for Jesus is troubled and needs to talk to His Father. He takes the Disciples to Gethsemane, where He prays the prayer He bequeaths to us all: “Not my will, but Thy will be done”, a prayer which costs Him sweat and tears before He goes to His betrayal and mock trial.
At the end, He is betrayed and taken to Pontius Pilate for a long night which leads to His crucifixion. And thus ends a single day which should speak to all of us who walk at least at times in darkness, who deal with human challenge and tragedy and need the Lord of Light and what He did for us.
Through service we follow Him, through bowing to God’s will we follow Him, through prayer we follow Him, through accepting death and the promise of resurrection we follow Him. Each of these acts of following Him helps us through times of darkness and reminds us that it is in following Him that we embrace the Light. May you have a contemplative Holy Week and a Happy Easter.
April 8, 2019
We are a week into April, with Easter coming soon and spring showing more and more beauty. Of course, many of us are aware that this year which we just started is now into its second quarter. Time is rushing by us again, making our heads spin with the speed at which each day passes. As my father used to say with a smile – instead of “tempus fugit” meaning time flies – “Tempus fidget”.
Most of our New Year’s resolutions are long broken and forgotten, but perhaps April is a good time to contemplate where we are and where we’re going – and whether that going involves walking with our Lord. He was such a person of purpose. In the wilderness He gained a solid understanding of His ministry, what He must do on this earth before He returned to His Father’s house.
Purpose does two things for us. First, it gives form and focus to each new day. Second, purpose cultivates forward thinking. We not only know what we need to do today but also what we are going to do tomorrow in order to accomplish our goals.
I like to remind retired people that even though they have the right to rest a bit upon their laurels, they also need purpose, if only to realize that they are not just going away from a major part of their lives but also going towards another major part. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” is not just a cliché but a realization that so much is left to live for.
A friend of mine is retiring this spring after a long career as a master teacher. She has embraced the charge and challenge of offering children both learning and life skills but now she is moving on, and the end of that career could be daunting. Instead, she is bubbling over with dreams because she now has the time to convert her parents’ house to a retreat center for quilters and other groups. What my friend has discovered is purpose with a capital “P” and as a result, change is much easier than it would be for anyone who only saw retirement as an end.
Jesus offers us His example of focused purpose, promises to share our burdens, and guides our steps if we are willing to spend a part of each day in devotions and prayer. Happy April, and Happy Life!
April 1, 2019
“April Fool,” I responded when my husband the early riser informed me that our springtime world was covered with 4 inches of snow. Then I looked out the window and decided that it was Mother Nature who had played the April Fool joke on us because, sure enough, there was the snow. Is it serious? No – only something to create mud when my husband was looking forward to returning to cowboy work when the mud finished drying up.
The meadowlarks, killdeers, and roseate finches are singing in the snow. They will survive, partly because we feed them with my feeder, seeds in the horse hay, and seeds on the old grasses and bushes in the meadows. But today they are a reminder that God sustains us despite the things that happen in our lives.
Has it snowed on your bright promising landscape recently? Has it rained on your parade? It certainly did on mine when friends I was counting on did not come for my program at the spring tea. However, a dear friend reminded me that the focus needed to be on the ones who did come and who responded to what I had to share.
One of the lessons of Lent is that our Savior dealt with lots of negativity during His ministry. He not only had to face down the Devil in the wilderness (if you haven’t read that passage lately, be sure to look at the fourth chapter of Matthew – it’s amazing!). He also had to face people who did not believe Him, who opposed Him, who doubted Him, and who eventually would turn completely against Him.
What Jesus did in reaction to these things touches both my heart and my spirit. He simply answered when necessary – and so often put people like the Pharisees in their place – and otherwise went about His Father’s business. He focused on the people who needed Him, the people who were despairing or frustrated, and gave them what they needed. Loaves and fishes along with words of salvation – that was Jesus’ response to our needs.
This snow will melt, my husband will be back to work, and God’s world will burst with spring beauty leading to the time of Jesus’ Resurrection. Hallelujah!
I just want to continue to share ideas about grief and life with people who long as I do for comfort and understanding.